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Dwarf Crested Iris
Iris cristata

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Dwarf Crested IrisWe don't have many native Irises. Fortunately, this pretty spring flower is fairly common throughout our mountains and piedmont. It can be found in a fairly broad range of habitats, but I usually see them on the mostly sunny edges of trails and unused dirt roads. They make an excellent addition to native gardens around the house.
Iris flowers are unusual and kind of hard to figure out by looking at them. The three lower, largest, showiest parts are actually the sepals. The three true petals are slightly shorter and narrower, and are unmarked. To further complicate things, there are three "style arms" that also look like short, narrow petals - these are extensions of the ovary, the seed-producing part of the flower.
Crested Iris are perennials that do most of their spreading via the rhizomes - underground stems with growth nodes on them. You almost never see one Iris at a time - you're most likely to find colonies consisting of a handful to dozens of plants. The flowers and leaves are roughly the same height - usually 4" - 6" high. Distinct, fuzzy ridges with a spot of yellow run along the center line of the sepals.The leaves are about as broad as the widest part of the sepals - usually an inch to 1-1/2 inches. Crested Iris are almost exclusively pale violet on color, but I have recently seen a white subspecies available from some nurseries.
Crested Iris might be confused with one other - the Dwarf Iris also called Spring or Vernal Iris (Iris verna). Vernal Iris have much narrower leaves and the sepals do not have any obvious fuzzy crest. Habitat is also a clue - in the mountains you almost always find Crested Iris. Vernal Iris in the mountains would be an unusual find. Both grow in the piedmont region, so if you find an Iris there, you might have to look closely to be sure which is which.
A note on the nomenclature (naming conventions) on this site: Scientific names and classifications are constantly being argued and changed, and it drives me nuts. Although I use many different sources for knowledge, for naming consistency  I  use the  "Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas" by Radford, Ahles and Bell, 1968 edition. This book is a well-established authority for the plants of our region and I've been using it for years. If for some reason I must use a different source for a particular plant, I will make note of it within the descriptive text. Don't like it? Tough!

Fiona Dudley
986 Reems Creek Road
Weaverville NC 28787


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